China: Too expensive for Chinese travelers?
While Chinese tourists are swiping credit cards at casinos, bagging sales at shopping malls and feasting at Michelin-starred restaurants overseas, domestic travel is getting a little too expensive.
According to various reports, the recent price hike for entrance to major tourist sites in China has sparked an outcry, with some travelers taking overseas trips as a cost-control option.
Admission prices on the rise
More than 20 major tourist attractions in China, including Shou Xihu (瘦西湖) in Yangzhou and Jinggan Mountain (井冈山) in Jiangxi, announced last week they would raise admissions by 20 to 100 percent in the next few months, reported People’s Daily (website in simplified Chinese only).
That’s why Chinese [choose to] travel overseas whenever there is a holiday. [Outbound trips] are indeed cheaper than domestic ones.
-- Chinese netizen "san sui le" (3岁了)
The current admission prices for national-level and World Heritage Sites in China are already higher than their international counterparts.
“[The travel entrance fees in China] are very likely the most expensive in the world compared to local salary,” Bao Jigang (保继刚), Dean of the Tourism College in Zhongshan University, told state-run International Finance News (website in simplified Chinese only).
China's average per capita salary in 2011 was RMB 2,000 (US$317), according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and most of China’s highest-ranked attractions won’t let you past the gate for less than RMB 100 (US$16).
As Chinese netizens pointed out, it’s cheaper for a group of four to visit Yellowstone National Park on foot on a week pass (US$12 per head) or three to visit the Taj Mahal (US$14 per ticket) than for one person to set foot in Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟), a national park in Sichuan Province (RMB 310 or US$49 per person in high season).
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Bao noted that prices are high in favor of commercial gain, even though they belong to the public.
Professor Lou Jiajun (楼嘉军) from East Normal University said China’s travel industry has yet to mature, and admissions account for more than 80 percent of the income of Chinese tourist spots.
Additionally, unlike outbound travelers, domestic travelers do not spend an arm and a leg on dining and souvenir shopping, which is why tourist spots are keen to rely on entry fees to profit, said Lou.
Tourist spots in China are required by the central government to maintain a minimum three-year interval between price increases, and host public hearings before doing so.
Overseas trips more cost-effective
According to a recent survey by China Tourism Academy, entry fees account for 21.92 percent of domestic travelers' overall spending. It is the biggest expense during their trips in China, followed by transportation and shopping.
"For family trips, admissions will take up an even higher percentage," a Guangzhou surnamed Luo told Nanfang Daily. "If a family of three travels in China, entry fees usually cost RMB 1,500-RMB 2,000 (US$238-317)," Luo continued.
And nearly 90 percent netizens claimed that “expensive entrance has seriously dampened [their] passion to travel in China” in a previous Internet poll.
“That’s why Chinese [choose to] travel overseas whenever there is a holiday,” netizen "san sui le" (3岁了) posted on Weibo.
“[Outbound trips] are indeed cheaper than domestic ones. A group trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand costs RMB 3,600, a visit to Hainan costs RMB 3,800, and [visitors] will likely to be conned by tourist traps in [Hainan].”
An industry insider admitted to Nanfang Daily that domestic tours have lost the price advantage this year compared to overseas trips. And this happens when many countries, such as Japan, are extending special deals to Chinese tourists.
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This is not the first time travel-related cost has grabbed the media spotlight. Hainan Tourist Bureau came under fire early this year when a seafood stall in Sanya charged a domestic traveler RMB 9,746 (US$1,546) for a seven-course meal during Spring Festival.